Thursday, February 1, 2007

Innovative Leadership: Progress at Warp Speed

If you’re going to get your organization to make radical changes that will slingshot it warp speed ahead of your competitors, it’ll be due to dedicated, passionate, and visionary leaders who think and act boldly. That’s the essence of innovative leadership!

Latest estimates tell us there are over 500 different definitions of “leadership.” Perhaps the only common denominator of those is that a leader has followers. Although an executive or manager can be a “leader,” leadership is more a role and state of being than a position or title. Leadership is not about systems or procedures. It’s about people—about motivating, inspiring, directing, and developing them for peak (goal-oriented) performance.

I define leadership as the ability to get followers deeply committed to fulfilling a vision, objective, or course of action that they believe is achievable and worthwhile. An innovative leader, though, is an exceptional and rare one; a person who promotes and focuses maximum effective creativity from followers to achieve remarkable breakthroughs in the organization. These “galvanizers” get people to attack things they’ve only longed for and dreamt of previously. Look at the successful leaders in any industry today and you’ll see 11 common characteristics.

Characteristics of Innovative Leaders

Fast and action oriented. Speed, responsiveness, and agility are everything to innovative leaders who analyze situations, make decisions and act on opportunities. They find shortcuts to slash red tape. They’d rather make a wrong decision than blow a potential opportunity by cautiously sitting still and playing it safe until all the data are in.

Immersed in progressive change. Innovative leaders build organizations and foster a culture of on-going, never-ending change. They ensure that their organizations continually learn, adapt, evolve, and improve. Their first objective is to deal with turbulent change around them, then become master of that change.

Future-obsessed. The beckoning horizon ahead excites them. These leaders visualize their organization’s future and plot its course. They’re always asking, “What next?” “Where else?” They create the future by visualizing it now.

Masters of motivation and inspiration. Vanguard leaders first get people excited, then committed, and finally moving swiftly. They tap into secret chambers of the minds, hearts, and souls of people and know which “buttons to push” to activate their staff’s pride, faith, hope, drive, and perseverance. Innovative leaders make their followers feel special as if they were an elite exclusive team fulfilling some noble destiny. They help their employees fulfill a deep longing for creativity and innovation. They impart a sense of invincibility, power and control over their situations. These leaders accomplish two overwhelmingly important things: they make people feel good about themselves and they make them feel good about what they’re accomplishing.

Passionate. Innovative leaders are incredibly driven. And that rubs off on their followers. They express emotions freely and showcase their excitement about new ideas and change.

Super-salespeople and evangelists. The secret of innovative leadership is not authority, but influence and loyalty. President Dwight Eisenhower noted, “You do not lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership.” Innovative leaders persuasively communicate an optimistic, bright, enticing picture of the future for their followers. They elicit support along the way. They’re “dream merchants.” They keep the dream alive by referring to the grand vision or goal at every opportunity. They convince people to get on board and stay on board.

Rule breakers. The only rule they have is, “There are no rules.” Bureaucratic thinking, even in small organizations, focuses on strictly (oftentimes “blindly”) following rules, regulations, methods, procedures, formulas, policies, and playing it safe. It’s about “running a tight ship.” Unfortunately, it stays in the harbor a lot and that’s not what ships are built for. Innovative leaders get followers to discard their policy and procedures' manuals and, instead, create common sense, flexible, and ethical guidelines to creatively operate. Set sail!

Mountain climbers. What do Alexander the Great and Steve Jobs have in common? Both got their “troops” conquering more territory by repeatedly giving them challenging battles to fight and mountains to climb. But before the arrogance of complacency of victory set in, they announced yet another new and exciting goal—a new peak—to reach. “Are you ready for a bigger game?” they ask their followers. By creating on-going inspiring short-term visions and galvanizing followers to rush toward them, will innovative leaders keep interest and motivation peaked at all times.

Opportunists. Innovative leaders aggressively seek out and grab ideas and opportunities before others are even aware of their existence. They study trends, technological developments, and are well-rounded readers. They’re always asking themselves questions like, “How does ‘this’ apply to my organization?” How can I use it or get ideas from it?”

Builders. You can’t build good products in poor factories. The factory of creativity is the organization’s culture and operating climate. A major role of the leader is to create an environment where imagination, smart risk-taking, aggressive initiatives, and bold tactics are encouraged and rewarded. As builders, they design their organization’s infrastructure to support every aspect of innovation by helping to create or modify the organization’s collective values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.

High-gain risk-takers. You won’t find innovative leaders thinking small. Their plans are grandiose; their actions big and daring. They seek large gains and aren’t afraid to take smart calculated risks. These are people who create industries and fortunes, not by cautiously holding back, but by boldly leaping far ahead of the average crowd.

Innovative leadership is the highest form of leadership because of the huge contributions made in the lives of employees, customers, and community. Innovative leaders take their companies to far away, exciting destinations. Let the journey begin!


Anonymous said...

I have read your post for a while and they are interesting but harly innovative. You may say leadership is not rocket science but one question any leader need to answer is will my team follow me if I did not have a title or position of authority. Can I lead my peers or even people who outrank me? It all boils down to trust. Do your teams trust you whole heartedly?

Take your former positions and ask the question you will find out whether you are a true leader.

Many can talk their way into a position but the masses will be able to see if you are true to your words. You cant just say what or even do the things the books tell you to to become a great leader. It has to come from the heart.

So did your teams trust you? Were you a great leader? Did you help your teams reach their personal or professional goals or did you hold them back trying to gather glory for yourself.

They will never care how much you know until they know how much you care. Did your team believe you cared about them? These are the questions a great leader knows the answer to. Look into your past do you have former employees who still contact you? would someone you met and worked in the same building as follow you to another company? or do they dispise you and think in their hearts that you were in it for yourself and they were nothing more than a pawn to you?

Dave said...

You ask very good questions. First of all, the definition of innovate:

in·no·vate /ˈɪnəˌveɪt/
–verb (used without object) 1. to introduce something new; make changes in anything established.
–verb (used with object) 2. to introduce (something new) for or as if for the first time: to innovate a computer operating system.
3. Archaic. to alter.

An innovative leader is constantly trying to change the norm and consistenly challenging the status quo. These things push the comfort zone and sometimes people uncomfortable with change aren't able to follow.

The true measure of any leader is results. Without results no leader will be around for long. Long term results require trust, as you mention, as well as creating the environment for people to flourish.

I have many colleagues I've recruited from past endeavors and some of them remain my closest friends. I always look back to those who've shown the intensity and willingness to change and will recruit from that pool.

Keep reading, challenging and posting. It's what good innovators do!

thescoundrel said...

If we are going to stay a major player in the world economy we have to have innovative leadership that keeps ahead of the competition. This county needs leaders who understand that you have to be innovators of product markets. This country needs to have people that understand in the world market, new product profit disintegrates as fast as it is invented. So to stay with the leaders they need to understand what is hot, what is not, how long to stay with a winning product and when to dump it and move on. The old market systems where you can innovate and then set on the laurels of your product are gone. There are too many players in the market that will imitate and clone the product in regions where we cannot compete long-term with inexpensive manufacturing processes. We need to invent design live off the fat end of the products life, and be ready to move on before the WalMarts of the world roll back the prices/profit. The new world economy is like playing against an experienced chess player; if you think only one or two moves ahead you are doomed. You have to continue to invent and drive the market to exceed beyond basic survival.

Dave said...

I agree wholeheartedly!

Any advice for the leaders of Davenport to get more innovation ingrained into city employees and civic leaders?

With Aldermen and the Mayor being part time elected officials, I'm sure it's hard to climb that mountain. I'd like to see at least one of those positions full time but I don't think it will happen anytime soon.

thescoundrel said...

I actually think there are things the QC needs to do right away.

The world is hungry for clean renewable energy. As China and India continue to expand into manufacturing and turn into more mobile countries, that hunger is going to grow. The time to find a reasonable replacement for petroleum products and nuclear resources is now, not later. Over on Cruisers blog he has been talking energy for as long as I have been blogging. Cruiser, like many others I have read, is not a proponent of E85. But unlike most naysayers, Cruiser offered up alternatives. Our leaders and business infrastructures need to become part of the solution instead of sitting on the sidelines. They need to get our local schools and usable infrastructures actively involved. They need to band with “idea researchers”, schools and industries that are investigating energy alternatives. Then they need to hard sell the Quad Cities as a part of that development process. Get rid of our local isolationism and band together with big-city Universities as part of the solution. Put our face in the forefront of exploration and development. A clean practical renewable energy source is the next Big-Oil marketplace industry. There is a gold mine awaiting the first practical, renewable and marketable energy source. The trouble is our representative leaders, from the ground up, think party-line-first, stagnantly, small and safe. They talk the talk but never address the problems. That is why our once booming manufacturing industry has been replaced with a fast food industry.

Also the local city governments and business need to get involved with all the local schools. This area has become depressed and a lot of intelligent young people are moving away to find opportunity. This community is in shock and demoralized. The leaders need to start a program of selling the QC area to students within the QC and all the smaller surrounding communities. They need to take the time and approach each school to offer up school assemblies that creates interaction between leaders and students. They need to sell the QC and get the schools and students involved in making this a vibrant place. Listen to what they have to say and together find ways to make them want to help build this community. But for it to work it must be a genuine sell and commitment.

Dave said...

I like some of your suggestions.

Teaming up with schools to instill pride in the students is important. There is a lot going for this community that doesn't come out every day. The city needs to focus more on the message. I know at one time "Momentum" was the tag line and a lot of folks poked fun at the term. It's time to get back on message and follow it up with action.

People may agree or disagree with some of the projects in the downtown and surrounding area and their success and/or viability. The end result is they're built and here to stay so we should support them. It's now time to improve the environment that surrounds them.

I think the city is focused on the crime issue and have proposed in the new budget ways to combat this blight on our community. It will take some time but I think we're moving in the right direction.

There are also many civic organizations trying to team up with kids to get them more involved. The Rotary Club, Junior Achievement, YWCA and others.

I remember an article in the Times a couple years ago about the Appreciative Inquiry excercise they did. I'm going to search for it and make another post. Good stuff but I don't know if any action was taken since it was close to the last elections.